Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘death’

Best looks

Yesterday a young woman died. Aged just 25, her death was sudden and apparently unexpected; she leaves behind a grieving family, husband and two little boys who aren’t old enough to understand why Mummy isn’t there any more. Her name was Peaches Geldof and she was known as a celebrity, both because of her famous parents and in her own right. Naturally most of the media pounced on the news of her death, interviewing anyone they could find with a vague connection to her and fuelling speculation about how and why she died. The usual ghoulish reaction to a celebrity death was certainly in evidence, with endless stories rehashing her life and career.

At the offices of Cosmopolitan magazine, however, the staff seemed to forget that Ms Geldof had a life and career. In fact they seemed to forget altogether that she was a real, flesh and blood woman with friends and family who are shocked and grieving, and decided that their “tribute” to her would be this:

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Yes, you read that right. A woman has died tragically young, two small boys are motherless and the only thing that Cosmopolitan magazine can think of to say is “We liked her clothes”. What the hell?! In fact they don’t even acknowledge that she was a person at all, merely referring to her as a “fashion world fixture”. Now, a door handle is a fixture. A plug socket is a fixture. A woman is a human being, not a bloody fixture!

Peaches Geldof was a daughter and sister. She was married; she carried and gave birth to two babies who are still too young to understand where their mummy has gone. She had hopes, dreams, a career and aspirations. She loved and was loved in return. She laughed, she cried, she had happy days and sad days. She was like every other woman and she was worth far more than merely the fabric with which she covered her body! For Cosmopolitan to reduce her to a mere mannequin, a doll whose sole purpose is to be looked at and admired, is insulting not just to Ms Geldof but to the magazine’s readership and indeed, all women.

We live in a society where a woman’s perceived value is mostly based on her appearance. Her height, weight, hair colour, the size of her breasts and length of her legs, as well as many other physical features. You know this, I know this, Cosmopolitan magazine know this. It’s what makes them money, after all. But this shallow, pathetic, dehumanising piece about a woman who’s barely been dead for a day is a new low, and whoever is responsible for it should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

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Wanna bet?

I love sport. All kinds of sport. Betting companies love it too as it makes them a lot of money: football, rugby, athletics, killing women, darts… Hang on, what? Yes, it seems that the violent death of an unarmed woman is the latest fun event for punters to have a flutter on:

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Irish betting company Paddy Power are using this advert both online and in print media to drum up business. Not only is it distasteful for its not-so-subtle mockery of a double amputee, but it turns the death of Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of Oscar Pistorius into merely another means of making money.

Although Paddy Power are kind enough to refer to Ms Steenkamp by name in their explanation (unlike much of the media, who seem to think her name was “top model” or “Oscar’s girlfriend”) that seems to be the extent of their acknowledgment that she was a human being. The fact that she was a woman with family and friends who mourn her seems to have escaped them entirely. Their greed has blinded them to the horror of the incident they’re profiting from.

When Ms Steenkamp was shot 3 times, I doubt her last thoughts were “Oh well, I may be dying but at least this will make Paddy Power some money”. As she lay dead in a pool of blood on her boyfriend’s bathroom floor, I don’t imagine many people thought “Brilliant! I can turn this into an advertising gimmick!”. As her shocked and grieving family arranged her funeral I’m sure that betting on whether her killer would be convicted wasn’t very high on their list of priorities.

As they seem oblivious to the inappropriateness of their actions, I’d like to point out to Paddy Power and its chief executive Patrick Kennedy that profiting from a woman’s death doesn’t make them marketing geniuses. Begging people to bet on the outcome of her killer’s trial smacks of desperation and voyeurism, not daring and humour. It is a sickening, despicable and mind-bogglingly ill-thought out thing to do.

The very least that Paddy Power should do at this point is void all bets on the matter, apologise unreservedly to Ms Steenkamp’s family and make a sizeable donation to a charity that helps victims of domestic violence. While they’re at it, perhaps they can learn how to be decent human beings instead of money-hungry ghouls.

When anxiety attacks

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m pottering about at home with DH and DS, doing odd jobs and housework. DD is out with my parents. This is proving to be a bit of a problem and I’m watching the clock until they get back. Don’t get me wrong, I trust my parents to look after her and I know she’s just as safe with them as she is with me or DH. But I can’t help it.

My head is filled with unpleasant images. I can be reading a story to DS but in my mind I can see DD’s lifeless body lying on a roadside somewhere. I may be sorting the washing but I can see DD trapped injured inside a crumpled car after a high-speed crash. I’m cleaning the bathroom but I’m also seeing DD hurt and terrified.

This is my anxiety. My head is constantly filled with images of my husband and children either seriously ill, hurt, dying or dead. It’s like a film reel constantly playing in the back of my mind. It’s not just when we’re apart either; one of my big problems is with parks, I can see the children falling off something high like a slide, or getting a serious head injury from a flying swing. Yesterday we went to the beach and although I had fun my mind was constantly bombarding me with images of the children drowning in the shallows. I see these vivid and unpleasant images when we go for a walk, cross a road, see dogs – anywhere.

I hate it. I get no respite from it, even when the children are asleep. The spectre of SIDS, of them dying inexplicably in their sleep, haunts me. On social media I have to mute any mention of SIDS or children dying – I have learned that even a mention of the subject results in sleepless nights as I lie awake listening to the children breathe. The same is true for DH; I can still see his lifeless body in my mind and I have to check on him multiple times during the night.

This is torture. This is my anxiety.

Mummy, what does dying mean?

DD and I made cakes earlier. We’d weighed out all the ingredients and were mixing them together when she paused, looked at me with a serious expression and asked The Question. The one we’ve been waiting for her to ask while fervently hoping she wouldn’t, not yet. The one about death.

DH and I knew this was going to come up at some point so we’d planned our approach. We’ve always felt that if a child is old enough to ask a question then they’re old enough to get a truthful answer, albeit somewhat simplified (this tactic was challenged recently when DD asked what a universe is. I struggled with that one a bit!). We had decided that we would explain death in a calm, factual manner, emphasising that it’s completely normal and nothing frightening. To start with it went something like this:

DD: Mummy, what does dying mean?
Me: (deep breath) Dying is what happens when your body stops working, stops breathing, and the the part of you that is you disappears.
DD: Oh. Did your Nana die?
Me: (relieved this is going so well) Yes, a long time ago.
DD: Did she know she died?
Me: Um…

I explained in a bit more detail, making sure to reassure her that dying doesn’t hurt (yeah I know, but she’s not quite 4) and that it’s just your body stopping.

DD: So dead people can’t move or talk or breathe?
Me: No, the bit that’s you inside your body isn’t there any more so the body can’t do any of those things.
DD: (indignantly) But dead people can talk, they talk with their hands!

At this point I took a moment to explain the difference between dead and deaf… Then DD asked if DH and I would die one day and I said yes but not until we were very old. After a moment’s thought she asked if she was going to die and when I said yes (but again, not until she’s very old) she burst into tears wailing “I don’t want to die!”.

This quickly passed though as soon she had another question – what happens to dead bodies? I took another deep breath and explained about coffins, funerals (all the person’s friends and family have a little party and tell stories about what the person was like) and burial. She even asked whether the body stayed in the ground forever so I briefly touched on the idea that the body would become part of the soil and help feed plants and insects. She quite liked this idea and decided it was time to resume our baking.

All the way through this conversation I kept thinking how much easier it would be (for both of us!) if I could tell her that when people die they go to heaven. But although my family are Christian DH and I are both atheists. The idea of heaven is a wonderfully comforting one but for us to tell her that it’s true would be hypocritical, despite part of me wishing that I could.

When DD gets round to asking what happens to the bit inside your body that is you, we’ll respond the way we do with all things relating to religion and atheism. We’ll tell her that different people believe different things, explain what the different beliefs are and let her make up her own mind as to what she thinks is true. We’ll do the same with DS when he’s old enough.

But for now DD seems satisfied with the answers I gave (although I feel like I’ve been put through the wringer!) and doesn’t appear to be worrying. I guess that’s the most important thing.

When does worry become a mental health issue?

When I was 19 my fiancé died very suddenly. We hadn’t been together long but had discussed marriage and children and all the things that you begin to talk about when a relationship turns serious. We had lots of plans for our future together – and then suddenly that future wasn’t there any more. He was gone and his loss nearly destroyed me.

Of course, I eventually met DH and we married and have children. And while part of me still grieves for my fiancé I realise that I am fortunate to have the life I do, and in a way that stems from his death. However losing him has had a profound effect on my mental health and this manifests as constant anxiety. I worry about something happening to those I love. This is most pronounced with DH and the children of course. Having lost a partner once I know that I could not cope if anything happened to DH; the unimaginable pain of losing a child terrifies me even more.

When DH and I first got together we were students. One night he’d been out and hadn’t let me know he’d got home safely – I was convinced that he was lying dead somewhere. After several panic attacks about this I eventually phoned his (extremely lovely and understanding) housemate who went and checked on him for me and confirmed that he was fine. This was just the first incident of many over the years though, and just the tip of the anxiety iceberg.

When DD and I cross the road I get visions of a car running into her; I see her being thrown into the air by the impact. When she’s playing in the park I see her falling off equipment. When we’re at the beach I see her running into the sea and drowning. When I go in to check on her at night I am always terrified that she’s died in her sleep. I wake at least once an hour to check on DS, who is only 13 months and squarely within the SIDS window; I check on DH too, just in case.

The other night I read about a little boy close to DS’ age who had died in his sleep. His mother had posted a photo on her blog of her cradling his lifeless body in her arms – I sobbed for almost an hour. I barely slept that night for fear of what might happen to the children and I still cannot get the image of that poor woman and her son out of my head.

I’m pretty sure that this level of worry isn’t normal. But at some point it must have been – I mean, it’s natural to worry about those you love isn’t it? But at what point does it stop being a natural concern and start being something that affects your life? I never prevent my children from doing things, I refuse to let my anxiety affect them. But I spend a lot of my time fretting, worrying, panicking and always anticipating the absolute worst. That can’t be normal. And I guess it’s something else that needs to be mentioned to the psychiatrist when I have my assessment on Thursday.

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